The Pentagon's New China War Plan

Salon reports on the efforts of Pentagon officials to formulate a new “AirSea Battle” approach to maintaining strategic dominance over China:

[AirSea Battle] complements the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, a government white paper that precluded the rise of any “peer competitor” that might challenge U.S. dominance worldwide. The Planning Guidance is the Pentagon’s writ for control of what defense planners call “the global commons,” a euphemism for the seaways, land bridges and air corridors that are the arteries of international commerce. For a foreign power to challenge this American dominion is to effectively declare war on the United States, and that is exactly what China appears to be doing in the South China Sea, a resource-rich and highly contested waterway in Southeast Asia ….

In addition to China, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines all have competing claims on several clusters of South China Sea islands. Rather than intervening with quiet diplomacy to untangle this incendiary thicket, the U.S. has starkly sided against Beijing. In March 2010, when a Chinese official was quoted by Japanese media as identifying the region as a “core interest” of Chinese sovereignty, the White House retaliated by declaring that freedom of maritime navigation is a U.S. “national interest.” As it turns out, according to the China scholars Nong Hong and Wenran Jiang, writing in the July 1 edition of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation’s China bulletin, the core interest to which the official referred was “the peaceful resolution” of the disputes in question. Despite this, the White House refuses to climb down ….

For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. government has encountered the practical limits of the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance. In its story about AirSea Battle and the China Integration Team, Inside the Pentagon revealed an oblique, if profound insight from Andrew Krepinevich, the highly regarded head of Washington’s Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. China, he said, is clearly jousting for control of the Western Pacific and “we have to decide whether we’re going to compete or not. If we’re not, then we have to be willing to accept the shift in the military balance.” Otherwise, “the question is how to compete effectively.”

Suspicion of attempts at containment may account for some of China’s unwillingness to adopt crisis-prevention protocols like those between the US and USSR during the Cold War. From The Sydney Morning Herald:

“We have tried to make clear to China how important it is to put in place the institutions and policies to manage any incidents,” said Kurt Campbell, the US State Department’s senior official responsible for policy in Asia.

The US and Soviet Union put in place a number of agreements to contain Cold War mishaps from flaring into hot conflict, but China is declining all US approaches.

“We continue to underscore how important that is,” Dr Campbell told the Herald in an interview. “More and more, Chinese and United States forces operate side by side. There’s a need to have predictability on the high seas and above the high seas ….”

A professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, Hugh White, said: “China seems to be prepared to run the risk so it can exploit these incidents to assert its claims.

“This is what strategic competition between great powers looks like. This is how wars start. Welcome to the Asia-Pacific century.”

Sources:

The Pentagon’s new China war plan – Salon.com
US finds unwilling partner in China to avert potential crisis in region – The Sydney Morning Herald

August 16, 2011 11:58 PM
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